Unresolved conflict in any relationship does more than just hurt your feelings. We start becoming blocked in communication, building unconscious walls between us. The spontaneity is forsaken and time together eventually can become, well, dull. What you “let slide” just may do you in over time. Here are some steps that will keep the relationship safe from built up resentments or overly cautious communications.
Step 1: Know What the Issue Is About
It’s common to have hurt feelings and be disappointed – but not know exactly what it’s all about. You must take the time to figure out what happened. Write the answers to the following questions to get clarity.
What happened? What did you hear or see happen that led to the upset? These are the facts.
What does it mean to you? Write about what the behavior means to you. This is where we interpret, draw conclusions, or tell ourselves a story about the other’s actions. This is your perception.
How does it make you feel? When you think ______ do you feel angry? Hurt or sad? Are you afraid of losing something, or afraid of what the behavior might mean?
What would you like to change? Try to get clear about what it is you want to be different. If its minor, you can formulate a request. If the situation is more serious (He burns dinner when he drinks too much, she spends too much money so bills can’t get paid), then you have to take more serious measures. For situations like this, I recommend therapy. Go with or without your partner, and you will learn how to take care of yourself until he or she has better self-control.
Step 2: Know How to Approach the Other – Explaining it from your perspective.
One way to be sure to make it worse is to tell the other how you feel as though it were FACT. Why? People become defensive when you assume to know what’s going on for them. And how can you? All you can know is your own perspective. The way you word it is more important then you probably think. If someone who cares about you has hurt you, he or she probably doesn’t understand how you feel.
Try writing down your experience using “I” statements to practice how to say it in a clear, respectful manner.
Practice with the sentence-structures here:
“I felt ____________ when you ______________________ because I think it means _____________ . I’d like it if you __(request)__.”
“When you ______________ I thought ___________ and felt __________. I want you to ___________.”
When you feel clear, you are ready to talk. You will probably feel some anxiety about talking, and it will be less so someday. But for now, accept that you will be somewhat anxious. Do it anyway!
Step 3: Know The Other’s Version of What Happened
It’s important to understand how the other person saw the situation. This also keeps the discussion on a more respectful level, with both of you discussing the problem rather than one person accusing and the other defending.
You may learn that s/he had a completely different take on the situation. When this happens, the solution can be that you have just learned more about the other, and s/he knows and understands more about you. The result is often an increased sense of closeness and compassion.
Step 4: Know You Have a Solution to the Problem
“Okay – So what are we going to do about this?”
If the issue isn’t resolved by understanding each other, then you need to emphasize what you’d like to see change. Remember that it is worth the time it takes, because it will prevent this from becoming a recurring problem. If someone is very hurt, or very defensive, it may take a few discussions to resolve this problem. If you can’t solve it together after a few tries, seek the help of a counselor. You are worth it.
Step 5: Be Sure Your Forgiveness Is Real
Forgiveness does not mean the other’s behavior was okay. It means you understand because you recognize that all of us are fallible human beings. The good news is that you are willing to do what is necessary to fix the problems, and then forgive each other.
This can be as simple as looking into each other’s eyes and saying “I forgive you.” What’s important is that you communicate that the air is cleared, the hurt forgiven, and the problem is over. You won’t be able to do that honestly if you haven’t done the previous steps.
When both of you take responsibility for fixing these misunderstandings and/or mistakes in the relationship, your trust in each other will grow, and where trust grows, so does love.